What’s in a Name? Thoughts and Reflections on the SBC Name Change Discussion

This article originally appeared on March 20, 2012.

What is in a name? A great deal I would argue. Parents spend a great deal of time selecting just the right name for their newborn. Auto makers assign names to their brands to ensure they are interesting and appealing. As a society, we assign names to buildings, roads, bridges, ball fields, and wings of hospitals to communicate and celebrate the accomplishments, successes, and heroism of those who have made meaningful contributions in life. Names are important. Names matter.

I pastor a Southern Baptist church. This means our church has made a choice to affiliate and cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention. Although we are first an Evangelical Christian church, our choice to affiliate with the Southern Baptist Convention is found in the values, commitment to cooperation, and theological stance that the SBC is known for. In September of 2011, Dr. Bryant Wright, president of the Southern Baptist Convention appointed a presidential task force to study the prospect of changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention – a name which has been in place for 166 years. A final report, along with any recommendations would be made to messengers at the 2012 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans. Dr. Wright offered two reasons for appointing this research committee.

“First, the convention’s name is so regional. With our focus on church planting, it is challenging in many parts of the country to lead churches to want to be part of a convention with such a regional name. Second, a name change could position us to maximize our effectiveness in reaching North America for Jesus Christ in the 21st century.”

Much speculation, discussion, and debate surrounded this upcoming announcement. Feelings were strong on both sides. In February of 2012, the task made its interim report to the SBC Executive Committee. A February 21st Baptist Press article says in part,

“The task force appointed to study a possible name change of the Southern Baptist Convention is recommending the convention maintain its legal name but adopt an informal, non-legal name for those who want to use it: “Great Commission Baptists. The recommendation would mean that the legal name of the convention would remain “Southern Baptist Convention” and could be used by any church which wishes to use it. But other SBC churches could call themselves “Great Commission Baptists” if they wish. Draper said the new term would be a “descriptor.” Dr. Jimmy Draper, Chairman of the presidential task force said, ‘We believe that the equity that we have in the name Southern Baptist Convention is valuable.’ ‘It is a strong name that identifies who we are in theology, morality and ethics, compassion, ministry and mission in the world. It is a name that is recognized globally in these areas. We also recognize the need that some may have to use a name that is not associated with a national region as indicated by the word ‘Southern.’ We want to do everything we can to encourage those who do feel a name change would be beneficial without recommending a legal name change for the convention. We believe we have found a way to do that.’  The goal from the beginning, Draper said, ‘was to consider the removal of any barrier to the effective proclamation of the Gospel and reaching people for Christ.’”

This issue of name change has come before the convention in previous years. Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention heard similar motions on the possibility of a name change in 1965, 1974, 1983, 1989, 1990, 1998, and 2004. Each time messengers decided to not change the name of the Southern Baptist Convention. I want to share my thoughts here on this issue. I am not in favor of changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe it has served us well all these years and that it will continue to identify us as champions of biblical conservatism in the decades to come. At present, the Southern Baptist Convention has something that is very valuable: brand recognition. When you hear the name “Southern Baptist Convention”, you know what you are getting. The same is true when you hear the names Harley Davidson, Apple, Coke, and Starbucks.  I want to share with you the three reasons why I believe the name “Southern Baptist Convention” is one worth retaining.

  1. The Southern Baptist Convention has led the way in caring for the physical needs of those affected by natural disaster. When it comes to ministering to those who have been affected by tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and tsunamis, no one does it like Southern Baptists. Often the first on the scene with feeding units, showers, and chaplains, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, and Baptist Global Response (the disaster relief arm of the International Mission Board) are on site to meet the physical needs of people with the desire to meet the spiritual needs. Relief and compassion are synonymous with Southern Baptists. This kind of “equity” if you will, can’t afford to be lost through a name change.
  2. The Southern Baptist Convention has led the way in the defense of biblical truth and religious liberty.Whether everyone agrees with the stance Southern Baptists takes on doctrinal matters, they know where we stand and that we will remain consistent. In the late 70’s and early 80’s, Southern Baptists took a stand against the liberalism that was infiltrating our seminaries. Southern Baptists took a stand for the inerrancy of sufficiency of the Scriptures. We are still reaping the benefits today. We owe a tremendous debt to Southern Baptist statesmen such as W.A. Criswell, Jerry Vines, Adrian Rogers, Paige Patterson, Al Mohler, Ed Young, Tom Elliff, George Truett, R.G. Lee, and many others. Southern Baptists have been a consistent voice “crying in the wilderness” of mainstream media against the laws and practices that seek to curtail the freedoms to practice our religion. We owe a debt as well to the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission. I am fearful that a name change would call into question the integrity of all that has been accomplished in our 166 years.
  3. The Southern Baptist Convention has led the way in pushing back the darkness through intentional missions efforts. Synonymous with Southern Baptists is a well-trained, well-prepared, and well-equipped missionary corps. Some of our North American missionaries have expressed concern that the name “Southern Baptist” is a hindrance to the church-planting efforts in certain parts of North America. That concern is the genesis for the Dr. Wright’s decision to once again study a name change. Although there may be some merit to this concern, I believe the integrity and track-record of the Southern Baptist Convention will serve us well in future church-planting movements.

What is in a name? A great deal. We have in the Southern Baptist Convention a name that has served us well, is trusted, and respected. Although the committee studying the name change does not recommend a formal change, they do offer an alternative. Dr. Draper writes, “other SBC churches could call themselves ‘Great Commission Baptists’ if they wish. This new term would be, in Dr. Draper’s words a ‘descriptor’. From where I stand, this ‘descriptor’ will be more confusing. I understand the desire to draw attention to our efforts in fulfilling the Great Commission. Considering the past Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommendations, this has become more of a focus than ever before. It is possible for Independent Baptists to be committed to the Great Commission. It is possible for American Baptists to be committed to the Great Commission. For one, I will stick with the Southern Baptist Convention. It is that name that identifies us as a people of doctrine, a people of conviction, and a people of missions. I agree wholeheartedly agree with the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee Report of 1999 and their rationale for not changing the name of the Convention. They wrote,

“The name Southern Baptist Convention” and term “SBC” have become brand names meaning more than just the sum of their parts. The Southern Baptist Convention no longer denotes a region as much as it does a position. It has come to mean missionary zeal, staunch Bible defense, moral rectitude, adherence to faith, and dependence upon the Lord.”

A Very Difficult Year

This article originally appeared on April 29, 2013.

To be perfectly honest, the past twelve months have amounted to the most difficult year of my life. Almost a year ago today, as I stepped into the pulpit and suffered what later was diagnosed as a complicated migraine with stroke-like symptoms as I began my sermon. As I attempted to read the scripture, like I had done countless times before, I was unable to do anything.   The words were forming in my mind, but I could not say anything and everything was a blur.  Immediately I knew something wasn’t right. The next fifteen minutes were excruciating. It seemed like an eternity. I tried to speak, but  could only manage a few words through the tears. Looking back, it was as if I had no idea what I was doing up there. My congregation knew things were not right. I could see it on their faces. I looked at my wife Terri who was sitting about three rows back to my right. I always know where she is sitting. She was crying. While I struggled with my words, I was trying to decide to step down or keep going. I decided to keep going. At the end of the service, I left the sanctuary to a room on the back hallway. I was met there by my wife and a few others. I remember feeling scared, nervous, and to be honest, a bit embarrassed. What followed over the next week was even more worrisome.

After seeing the doctor, having many tests run, and spending a night in the hospital, I was not sure how things were going to be going forward. I tried to read and study the next week, but was unable to remember anything I had read. I enjoy reading and writing so this was hard to handle. It was during this week that I began to ask some very difficult questions. I remember asking my wife, “What happens if I never get back to the point I was before?” I asked, “What if this is the end of my ministry as a pastor?” I remember asking “Should I just resign so the church could find someone else?” Thankfully, as the second week rolled around, I could remember more and more of what I had read. One of the significant changes I experienced from this “event” was that my vision was altered. As a result, eyeglasses are now necessary. A year later, things are good. Every so often, I have a moment where I feel my mind “skip”, much like a CD in a player.  Apart from that, no lingering effects. I am thankful that Lord allowed me to continue.

Roughly two months after this, my dad was diagnosed with inoperable stage four lung cancer. He  fwas living about four hours away from us and we made many trips back and forth to Tifton, GA to visit, talk with doctors, and just spend time with him. Dad decided to not undergo treatment for his cancer. The next few months brought many changes, for him and for us. My father died on Christmas Day 2012 at the age of 65. When he took his last breath, I was in the room alone with him. I am thankful for those last moments. My dad came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ very late in life. I remember the day he called me to let me know of his decision. He was so excited and I could not have been happier. There is a peace this certainty brings. I had the privilege of preaching my dad’s funeral. I miss my dad every day. We did not talk every day, but I thought of him every day. Deep down I believe that I have not really grieved the loss of my dad yet. I’m not sure why that is.

Through these two events, along with the weight of pastoral ministry, I have learned some great lessons over the past year. Allow me to share what I have learned.

  1. I have felt the weight of the truth of Romans 8:28. Paul wrote, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.I have always believed this verse. It is a verse with a promise to those who belong to God through His Son Jesus Christ. These two events are certainly not good. They are not circumstances anyone would want to deal with. However, God certainly can, and has, brought good because of these events. I have learned to not take for granted the small things in life (reading, writing, studying. etc.) I believe I am now better able to minister to families who lose loved ones. I understand the pain, hurt, highs and lows, and sorrow of losing someone very close to me. God is bringing good out of what is certainly not good.
  2. I have seen the true meaning of “help-mate” in my wife.In the book of Genesis, God gave Adam a companion, a help-mate, one to literally complete him. Over this past year, Terri has truly been by completion. She has held my hand, cried with me, guarded my time, and loved me through the not-so- easy times. I do not know if I could have made it through this past year’s events without her. She is a true God-send.
  3. The love of a congregation for its pastor runs deep. Over this past year, the people that I have the honor of pastoring have went out of their way to show their concern, support, love, and sympathy for me and my family. They have encouraged me to take as much time as I needed to to deal with these issues. They have prayed for me through it all. I truly love these people.

Looking back, the old adage is true, “God is good, all the time and all the time, God is good.”

Leaving on a Jet Plane

leaving-on-a-jet-planeLiterally. Terri and I are leaving today for Okinawa, Japan to meet our granddaughter Kalliahpe and visit with our son Jordan and daughter-in-law Skyllar. Many have asked if I will be writing while I am away. There will be some new content published along with other articles from the archives. Sayonara for now.

Is Social Networking Eroding the Fabric of Genuine Friendships?

Aristotle once said, “the desire for friendship comes quickly; friendship does not”. Within each one is the desire to share life with others. There is a desire for intimacy. There is a desire to have people in our lives with whom we connect on a deeper level. There is a desire to be part of a community that share the same beliefs, values, and interests. Building healthy and meaningful friendships requires work. They do not just “happen”. It is real work. When I speak of work, I am not saying that making friends and building lasting friendships is a job. I am saying that it requires giving up time in our already busy lives to the pursuit of friendship.

I believe we structure ourselves out of the opportunity to build authentic and lasting friendships. We learn to make friends at an early age. Remember as a child the times of simply  “hanging out” together. Kids would spend the night at each other’s homes where they would get to know the family and vice versa. Tree houses, sandlot football, bicycle riding, fishing, and camping were not just ways to pass the time, but were avenues to strengthening and deepening friendships. We don’t see too much of this anymore.

Social media has taken the world by storm. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and other social media sites are growing in popularity among all ages. The very essence of platforms such as these sites is that of friendship and connection. They offer an avenue of keeping up with established friendships and for the establishment of new ones. These sites allow for the constant and immediate answer to the question, “where are you and what are you doing?” Having “friends” on Facebook and “followers” on Twitter assist in connection. The only question that has to be answered is this one: Are these social networking sites capable of reproducing authentic and genuine friendships in the lives of people? I would have to say no.

Aristotle also said, “close friends share salt together”. I believe there is a great deal of truth in his statement. Close friends share meals together. They sit across from each other and share time, struggles, victories, tears, family, hurts, and laughs.  I am not saying that social networking sites are bad. I am not saying that they do not have a purpose. I blog, use Facebook and Twitter too. To answer the question asked in my title, “Is social networking eroding the fabric of genuine authentic friendships?” my answer is yes. Social networking sites promote social connectivity. This is not the same as intimate friendships. I see this erosion, or the slow wearing away, of authentic friendships taking place when the preference becomes a computer screen instead of a face-to-face interaction. This erosion can be seen when we would rather engage in online chatting instead of in-person communication. Although we hail the progress of technology today, and there have been some good advancements, I believe that making it possible to communicate and never have to sit down face-to-face separates us as people. Instead of saying, “Let’s get together for lunch and talk”, we say “I’ll email you.” Instead of picking up the phone and phone and talking to someone, we text them. If we are not careful, we will forget how to relate to people all together.

Again, let me say that I am not against social networking, or technology for that matter. I just believe strongly in the value of personal communication and we should make every effort to maintain personal contact with one another.

My Top Ten Leadership Lessons: Part #10

Lesson #1: If you feel it is necessary to continually remind people you are the leader, there is a real possibility you are not.

Lesson #2: Be Last.

Lesson #3: Praise Publicly. Correct Privately. Encourage Consistently.

Lesson #4: Listen and allow input. Never let yours be the only voice you hear.

Lesson #5: Leaders move forward and grow by looking back and learning. Leaders who are successful consistently evaluate past decisions to ensure better future decisions.

Lesson #6: Followership is a prerequisite to leadership. If you have a difficult time following you will have an even more difficult time leading.

Lesson #7: Be patient. There are times when no action is the best action.

Lesson #8: It is okay to not be the smartest person in the room.

Lesson #9: Leaders are well prepared and think of needs in advance.

Lesson #10: Lead by example. 

Lead by example. It is likely the most important leadership principle. Leadership expert John Maxwell said it this way, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” Why is this principle so important? People will follow someone whom they believe is worthy of being followed. The leader of an organization must set the standard and be a model for others. If he/she wants the people to be compassionate, compassion must be genuinely demonstrated by the leader. If he/she wants the people to be above reproach and steer clear of the gray areas of life, leaders will do the same before their people. It impossible to ask someone to do something you cannot, or are not willing to do yourself. To do so is hypocritical and destroys organizational cohesion and separates the leader from the organization.

Leadership means being in front. Think back to the movies that portrayed reenactments of major battles from the Civil War. As the massive opposing armies stood facing one another, there was a common element – a general leading the charge. This motivated the soldiers in the ranks. They knew their leader was willing to endure what they were being asked to endure. There was a confidence their leader was willing to risk being wounded or even killed, the same thing being asked of them. John Maxwell wrote, “”Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course. Leaders who are good navigators are capable of taking their people just about anywhere.”

If a leader wants his/her people to run into the storm for the good of the organization, they had better be close to the front so others will follow. The behaviors that leaders want the organization to adopt must first reside within the leader. It doesn’t mean a leader must be the best at everything. It does mean he/she must be willing to move first and take the same risks as everyone else. This cannot be done from the safety of the bunker.

My Top Ten Leadership Lessons: Part #9

Lesson #1: If you feel it is necessary to continually remind people you are the leader, there is a real possibility you are not.

Lesson #2: Be Last.

Lesson #3: Praise Publicly. Correct Privately. Encourage Consistently.

Lesson #4: Listen and allow input. Never let yours be the only voice you hear.

Lesson #5: Leaders move forward and grow by looking back and learning. Leaders who are successful consistently evaluate past decisions to ensure better future decisions.

Lesson #6: Followership is a prerequisite to leadership. If you have a difficult time following you will have an even more difficult time leading.

Lesson #7: Be patient. There are times when no action is the best action.

Lesson #8: It is okay to not be the smartest person in the room.

Lesson #9: Leaders are well prepared and think of needs in advance.

Nehemiah 2 offers a fresh perspective on Benjamin Franklin’s quote, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” His quote reminds us that planning is critical to success in any endeavor. Nehemiah’s heart was broken over the condition of the city and people of Jerusalem. God burdened his heart with a desire to rebuild the city walls. Nehemiah took leave of his duties at the king’s side to lead the rebuilding effort. Nehemiah made his needs to clear to the king:

“If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, for the city wall, and for the house that I will occupy.” And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me.” (Nehemiah 2:17-18)

Nehemiah knew in advance what it would take to accomplish his God-given task. He then presented his needs to the king when he asked for leave to go to Jerusalem. His request was honored. Imagine Nehemiah arriving in Jerusalem, looking around and saying, “Okay, here we are, did anyone think to bring timber to repair the wall gates?” Imagine the awkwardness. Imagine the delay in the work. Imagine the disappointment of those who were trusting his leadership. It is crucial for leaders to be prepared. They owe such preparation to the people they are leading. They owe such preparation to themselves for the sake of credibility. Whether leading in the spiritual or secular arena, those who would consider themselves “leaders” must think in advance so they might combat fears, calm the anxieties, and elevate the confidence of those who are following. A leader must be prepared to answer questions such as “What is involved in this endeavor?” “What will be the benefit?” “What are the challenges and potential obstacles ahead?” “What can we do to support this?” “How will we be better off if we change what we are doing?” Because of Nehemiah’s forethought, God was honored and the people encouraged. His leadership style flies in the face of “off-the-cuff” leadership. This style of leadership is rarely effective and is almost always frustrating and discouraging.

 

Live Sent: An Awareness

livesentIn the first two parts of this series I introduced you to the thought of living Sent. Jesus sent His Son into the world for a specific reason: to make the Father known and to show us how to know Him. Sent people are sensitive people. As we go about our daily business as spokesmen for the King and messengers of the gospel, it is important we take time to look around and see what is happening around us. Two areas deserve our sensitivity. 

1. The Condition of People.

When it comes to seeing the condition of people and responding correctly, Jesus is our model. We see an example in Matthew’s gospel:

Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. 36 But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd (Matthew 9:35-36)

We see how Jesus viewed people in His day. Matthew used words and phrases such as “weary”, “scattered”, and “without a shepherd” to describe them. As we push through our daily lives we need to be sensitive to the condition of the people with whom we share parts of our days. We need to be sensitive to the fact that, although things may look good on the surface, inside people are hurting, lonely, scared, and hopeless. We need to be sensitive to the fact that nearly three out of four people in North America are lost without Christ.

Being sensitive to other people may at times require us to enter their world. Again, Jesus is our model. He was not afraid to associate with those with complicated and messy lives. The hurting need to be seen, and when seen, cared for. Jesus did not give His life for a building, a denomination, nor a program. He gave His life for people. Shouldn’t we look at others with the same sensitivity?

2. The Movement of God.

I believe we have become slaves to a routine. I believe we have become prisoners to a programmed life. I believe we have become captive to our calendars. I believe we try to subconsciously schedule the movement of God in a way that suits us. I wonder if God Himself has our permission to shake up, rearrange, and stir our lives? I think about the apostle Paul’s sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s reordering of his personal plans:

7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us (Acts 16:7-9).

What now?

  1. Pray for a brokenness over the condition of those in our communities that are hurting.
  2. Intentionally come along side someone you know who is hurting and be a friend.
  3. Ensure your plans are not set in stone. Allow the Holy Spirit permission to move you.